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  • Writer's pictureCameron Cochran

Collaboration is Crux of Wilson’s Rebound from 2020

Updated: Nov 2, 2021

Posted Thursday, October 8, 2020

By Brie Handgraaf

COVID-19, inequity and political divisiveness are just a few of the blows 2020 has delivered.

“Our surge capacity has been depleted and that summarizes as much as anything can. You can fake anything for about six months, but then you just get exhausted. I don’t know about you, but I want to fall into a big foam pit and take a month off,” said Leslie Boney, director for the Institute of Emerging Issues. “That is absolutely natural, but it is not what we should do. We should use this pandemic not as an excuse to fall into a foam pit, but to trampoline up.”

Boney was a keynote speaker at Wilson Forward’s annual meeting Thursday. When asked about what gives him hope through the turmoil, he said it’s local groups like Wilson Forward.

“You’ve got an opportunity during this particular moment to transform Wilson truly forward to greatness,” he said.

The meeting usually is held at Barton College with about 185 people in attendance, but the staff was forced to pivot and turn it into a virtual affair this year with help from Greenlight Community Broadband and the Gig East Exchange. Despite the format change, Wilson Forward Executive Director Paula Benson said roughly 175 people logged on and the majority stayed for the entire meeting, which clocked in at just under two hours.

“The secret sauce through all this is trying to figure out ways to give people hope,” Boney said.

He highlighted the Reconnect N.C. initiative working to address disparities across the state, including availability of high-speed broadband internet access.

“The belief that we are an ‘us’ instead of a ‘they’ is the biggest thing I’m seeing. We’re beginning to see our country again as a ‘we,’ as an ‘us’ and on a collective level,” he said, noting that mindset is prominent more on the local level than on a state or national level. “I come to a place like Wilson and see that ‘we’ mentality and I see a way for us to turn this around.”

Wilson County Schools Superintendent Lane Mills echoed Boney’s message with a call to support students, parents and teachers.

“Support is going to be really critical. We’re seeing that already, but it means more than just words on a page,” he said. “It is going to have to be real because we’ve got folks dealing with a lot of issues — stress, anxiety, depression, fear, worry — and they are scared. That is everywhere in every business and every setting, so I think it is going to be really important to be cognizant of it and deal with it.”

Mills urged people to be flexible and recognize that change will take time. He noted no one has the map to navigate to the ever-changing situation.

“Our GPS is out and no one knows what to do,” he said. “We’ve got to figure it out, and part of figuring it out has got to be that it is OK to make some mistakes. They are going to come. If we don’t make them, we’re not going to get out of this or into a new place.”

He said organizations like Wilson Forward that foster collaboration will be critical to adapting every facet of life to “the new normal.”

“There is rarely an easy route or even a chartered path in challenging times, but the comments and presentations shared with us this morning assured us that we can approach our challenges with determination, optimism and collaborative confidence in the road ahead,” Benson said.

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